Commentary Thirty-thousand hourly workers and 4,000 salaried employees peppered across North America today are wondering about their future without Ford.

They are the nameless masses that will lose their jobs when Ford closes or idles 14 manufacturing facilities over the next six years in an effort to reduce production capacity by 1.2 million units, or 26%, by 2009.

Both Ford and General Motors, which plans to close nine plants and shed 30,000 manufacturing jobs by 2008 – primarily through attrition and buyouts – and cut 7% of white-collar staff by 2006, are feeling pressure from shareholders to cut cost and improve manufacturing efficiency.

Add to that high-labor and bloated health-care costs, plus fierce competition from overseas, and the strategy quickly turns to cutting capacity.

The spate of Ford's announced closings includes two additional assembly plants to be determined later this year and two more unnamed factories slated to close between 2008-2012, leaving at-risk employees to ponder their fate.

Among others, they include assembly-line workers, the skilled trades, designers, engineers and contract workers. Many have been associated with the auto maker for more than 20 years.

Leaders of the United Auto Workers and the Canadian Auto Workers unions have called the job cuts “disappointing” and “devastating.”

But a top Ford executive, in a published report, prefers to refer to the slash-and-shutter “Way Forward” restructuring plan as “tough love.”

Tough luck also comes to mind. And not just for Ford employees.

The plant closings will have a ripple effect across the communities where the laid-off workers live, as well as the suppliers, retail businesses and local governments that support the facilities directly and indirectly with tax incentives, car parts and services.

Additionally, the plant closings and subsequent job losses will have a trickle down effect on regional economies.

Workers not protected by job security programs will file for unemployment; some no longer will have health-care coverage; and many will lack the disposable income to dine and shop or buy big-ticket items, such as new cars.

By some estimates, for every plant employee there are five others in the small-business community who serve that facility, including secondary services such as trash pickup and landscaping.

Ford's first restructuring plan fours years ago called for closing five plants and cutting 35,000 jobs, but that failed to turn around North American operations.

Now, with a looming threat from Iran to send the price of crude oil sky high; continuing uncertainty on Wall Street; and a general sense of economic caution that sees car buyers turning to smaller and less-expensive vehicles; Ford and GM embark on sweeping changes to “right-size” themselves.

If it takes a village to build a car, then the village now is sharing the pain. Ford and GM have an enormous responsibility as they swing the ax to get it right this time.

bmcclellan@wardsauto.com